Mar 23, 2008

Response to a Friend's Criticism of Obama's Speech

I've been out of the information loop for the past few days with my friend MK in town, and during the great three days we spent touring LA, going to Disney Hall for the LA Phil, visiting other friends, I received an email message that essentially said that partisans of Obama will like his speech in response to the attacks on him for tolerating his pastor's statements critical of the United States. Those who oppose Obama, however, will not be persuaded, essentially, because Obama "played the race card" and didn't "throw his pastor under the bus," or adequately explain why Obama has attended the Congregation for twenty years. The email spurred me to start listening to the snippets of Reverend Wright's speeches that have been publicized and to do some research as to what he actually said.

I have not had a chance to go into every single one of the sermons yet, but luckily I happened to run across the one in which he talked about the chickens coming home to roost. I glibly had suggested to this friend that the snippets were probably a form of "cherry picking" from many sermons he had given. Since he's a Christian, I suspect a lot of them might have had messages of love and toleration and understanding. I was glib but probably correct. At least on the first one I looked at.

Here is one of "snippets" from Reverend Wright as reported by ABC News: “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.” Thanks to Paul Woodward on the website The War in Context; ABC didn't provide context, because here's what the Rev. Wright said in his speech immediately after that snippet:

Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred. And terrorism begets terrorism. A white ambassador said that y’all, not a black militant. Not a reverend who preaches about racism. An ambassador whose eyes are wide open and who is trying to get us to wake up and move away from this dangerous precipice upon which we are now poised. The ambassador said the people we have wounded don’t have the military capability we have. But they do have individuals who are willing to die and take thousands with them. And we need to come to grips with that.

And so who was Wright referring to? Woodward points out that the man Rev. Wright referred to in his speech is Edward Peck:

It’s worth listening to what he has to say. It’s worth taking into consideration the opinion of a man who had been the Deputy Director of the White House Task Force on Terrorism under President Ronald Reagan, former Deputy Coordinator, Covert Intelligence Programs at the State Department, U.S. Ambassador and Chief of Mission to Iraq (1977-1980), and a 32-year veteran of the Foreign Service. At least, as far as Rev Wright was concerned, Edward Peck was worth listening to and that’s what he told his congregation.

On October 8, 2001, on CNN, Peck was asked: “Wouldn’t this war against terrorism be a mistake if we stop at Osama bin Laden and don’t take out Saddam Hussein as well?”

Peck said it would not be a mistake because, “when you take out Saddam Hussein, the key question you have to ask then is, what happens after that? And we don’t have a clue. Nobody knows, but it’s probably going to be bad. And a lot of people are going to be very upset about that, because that really is not written into our role in this world is to decide who rules Iraq.”

So the big question when I see this context, is why was it omitted? Answer? It's inconvenient, it doesn't fit the cartoon version of this attack on Obama. Wright is referring to an establishment white man for his notion which is, in essence, that of "blowback" originally a CIA term for "what goes around comes around." Establish the context and you see the propaganda machine in smooth operation.

So, I read that, and I decided I am going to, slowly but surely, work myself through the rest of the Wright snippets, because who knows what context they might have been taken from? As far as I can tell just from having listened to a few You Tube snippets, the one about AIDS as a plot by the US Govt sounds wacky, but no more than Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell saying 9/11 was God's punishment for gay sex, a woman's right to choose, and women's liberation. And given the kind of program carried out by the government in the Tuskegee Experiments Wright's got a sensitivity to the matter that might not be understandable to a white audience.

I have to say that when my friend wrote in his email that Obama is "playing the race card" I thought it really unfair. The speech addressed directly and honestly the very essence of the attack, which is essentially that of "guilt by association" that we should be very familiar with--the tactic that Joe McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover, Spiro Agnew and Richard Nixon carried out against pinko commie antiwar anti-American radicals.

In this case the whole organized and orchestrated publicity given to snippets from Wright's sermons was "race baiting" of the worst kind. (It appeals to fear fantasies of the worst kind, like "See, I told you they really want to kill us," "they hate the U.S., they will rise up and kill us in our beds just like the Jihadis" . . .I have even seen today surfing some right wing sites that black people are now being referred to as having "sleeper cells," thereby amalgamating the old racial bias with the new--Islamofascism.)

Wright's an ex-Marine-- the same kind of attack was made on another Marine, John Murtha, the Congressman from Pennsylvania, when he attacked the war from his position as head of the Armed services committee. It's the same whack job that was perpetrated on Max Cleland down in Georgia by associating him with pictures of Osama bin Laden.

Contrary to my friend's assertion that we didn't get an explanation of why Obama attended Rev. Wright's church for twenty years, the speech very clearly explained why. What it said was he had complicated reasons, and he explained them.

I think people who are against Obama aren't really looking for an explanation. They are looking for complete out and out condemnation and perhaps evidence of Obama having stomped out in high indignation. They want a cartoon. They want validation for their own conviction that the country can do no wrong; in short, the guilt by association that is being made here is just another version of the same old Bushit expressed by the patriotic fringe: that criticism of the US is treason.

In a minor form it was the criticism of Michelle Obama saying that she felt proud of this country for the first time when she saw the energy for change coming from all demographic groups to support a campaign that will reverse over seven years of Constitutional abuse.

In short, the attacks are baloney.

The people wanting Obama to throw Wright under the bus are the same ones who insist that we must march in lockstep to the drumbeats for war. They are the ones who wear their lapel pins on their egos, not their lapels. The direction of that march is not in any direction of a compass. It's toward totalitarianism. I'll take Obama's pretty sophisticated and adult responses any day.

There's enough to find fault with in his moderate approach so far that are of more substance than this current hunt for "sleeper cell" "Jihadi sympathizers" and disaffected radical "blacktivists."

But then I am radical: I could start promising to go after administration officials including Cheney, Rumsfeld, David Addington, John Yoo, and Alberto Gonzales who, having broken the law, ultimately should be under criminal prosecution. Obama would never go that far in his condemnation. Top flight American politicians tend not to be punished for their crimes, and Scooter Libby has already gotten his get out of jail free card.

What pisses me off more than Reverend Wright's diatribe is Dick Cheney being reminded that two thirds majority of citizens wants us--and have wanted us--to leave Iraq, and he says, then smirks, "So?" (Unfortunately I can't get the You Tube video here, so the reportage will have to suffice. Believe me, he smirked. Or was it his built in sneer that I remember? That's a hell of a lot more irritating than Wright saying the chickens have come home to roost.

I ran across an apposite quote from Eric Fromm: "Nationalism is our form of incest, is our idolatry, is our insanity. 'Patriotism' is its cult... Just as love for one individual which excludes the love for others is not love, love for one's country which is not part of one's love for humanity is not love, but idolatrous worship." I'll use that to give some insight into Obama's problem with the opposition.

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